Co-parenting hasn’t really been a thing for me. When your ex doesn’t live in town or has disappeared completely, you get to run the show as you see fit. Sometimes it’s exhausting calling all the shots, but I don’t envy my peers who bicker over whose night it is with the kids, which birthday party will be attended next weekend, and what time the kids should be going to bed on school nights.
But this is all about to change.
Next month my ex and his wife are moving to town, and I’ve already gotten into a scuffle with the wife. So when my friend Christina Cline Schneider’s email about co-parenting challenges hit my inbox, I knew it was time to talk.
Christina is a parenting coach who uses basic brain science, a style of parenting called conscious parenting, and an understanding of the connection between feelings and needs to help parents and their children stop surviving and start thriving. But before I get into that, I feel there’s something important to acknowledge.
Most of what I’ve seen my friends go through in the coparenting arena is BS. A lot of the issues you struggle with are unfair and a crock of crap. You aren’t obligated to take any of the advice that follows. But I know that where you’re at is crazy making, and I know you don’t want to stay there.
Can you relate? If so, you’re in the right place. If you’re game for moving to higher ground for the sake of you and your children, consider this.
Insider Tip 1:
Brain Science Trumps the Business Model
I asked my single mom friends to share what their biggest co-parenting challenge is right now, and one of the themes that popped up was striving to treat the co-parenting relationship as if it was a business relationship. Because I was never required to take a court-ordered parenting class, this is a new concept for me. My first thought though was how often do you do business with someone you’ve slept with for over a decade and have a kid with? There are some intense emotions at play in interacting with an ex, and I’m not so sure a business approach is realistic.
Christina suggests that often during the first year after divorce or traumatic breakup, we are stuck in survival mode and operating from the lower levels of the brain—the areas associated with fight or flight and emotional responses. This is the brain space where our toddlers hang out, and we all know how that would go down in the business world.
After talking with Christina, I believe brain science is one of the keys to better navigating this whole co-parenting thing. Here’s how Christina laid it out for me.
Insider Tip 2:
How the Brain Science Model Works
Ideally we’d all be operating from the highest level of the brain in co-parenting situations. We would be rational, conscious, decision-making parents. However, oftentimes we are going through life rationally making decisions for our children and then all of a sudden a stressful experience happens. Your son didn’t receive his allergy medicine over the weekend. Your daughter came back with only one shoe. Your ex didn’t show up for his weekly visit with the kids. BOOM! We are thrown for a loop.
It’s in that moment we have to choose. How will we respond? And, realistically, it’s hard. Heated situations with our exes can cause us to “flip our lids” and operate from the lower levels of the brain instead.
We can take this understanding of brain science and use it to analyze our ex’s behavior. But where we have even more potential is to use it as a tool for self awareness of our own responses. I know you may not want to hear this, but would you be willing to consider asking yourself: What are the basic fears and reactions driving my behavior?
That question is the key to pulling yourself up and onto the high road.
How do you operate at your highest level? For me it starts with awareness, recognizing when I feel threatened, and then learning to pull myself up.
So about that scuffle with my ex’s wife: it happened because I felt threatened by her seemingly sudden, uninvited involvement in my children’s healthcare. I’m pretty good at not flipping my lid in most situations, but I’d say I let it crack just a little. And for good reason.
From my perspective, this is the woman who played a central role in the demise of my marriage and became my kids’ stepmom less than 6 months after my divorce was finalized. Of course I’m going to be upset when she tries to get involved with my children no matter how well intentioned she may be.
For a few days I effortlessly slipped into functioning at the low and middle parts of my brain. I said a little more than necessary over text, and she accepted the opportunity to join me at my operating level through a frustrated text in return. Eventually we both dropped the situation and haven’t talked since.
See how my brain jumped into the pit of fight/flight with her? It just went there.
Insider Tip 3:
How to Get the Outcomes You Want
I don’t regret much of what I said, but I didn’t come out feeling good, and we’ll probably find ourselves in a similar situation down the road. So now that I’ve been totally honest about all the BS that flies around in these situations, and if you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve experienced your own BS, I’m about to share a powerful tool that came from my conversation with Christina and the work that she teaches. It’s a tool that, when used correctly, can have significant outcomes in challenging situations.
This is not about morphing yourself or your words into a form that is more digestible for the people wreaking havoc in your life. This is about operating from the highest level of your brain to create the outcome you desire and pave the road for less dramatic interactions in the future.
An empowered conversation is an approach to communication that is designed to change how you think, speak, and act to engage the other party to see possibilities for an outcome. Here’s what it looks like, according to Christina:
- State your intention. Clearly articulate the purpose of your conversation. It could be to clear up a misunderstanding, ensure your son gets his allergy medication every day, or set the schedule for spring break.
- Take responsibility for your part. Even if you are not in the wrong, this step levels the playing field to your advantage. Taking responsibility could be taking ownership for not addressing the issue sooner or failing to address it in a direct manner.
- State your feelings and needs. This is where you say “I was feeling X and needing Y.” For example, I’m not feeling supported, and I need you to understand how important this is.
- Show empathy for the other person’s feelings. Sample phrases are “it was never my intention to hurt you” or “I’m sorry you were disappointed.”
- Make a request. State how you would like to move forward.
One final tip that I especially appreciated from Christina is that when you get to step 5, it’s helpful to begin the request with “Would you be willing to consider…?” Christina used this language on me before she gave me the tip, which allowed me to see it in action before my mind was in a space to judge whether or not the language is effective. Her language gave me the opportunity to make my own decision. She put the idea on the table, and I got to decide whether to pick it up or not. Let’s face it, who wants to be told what to do?
I’ll be experimenting with these tips as my opportunities for practicing co-parenting grow over the next month. I encourage you to start here, too. We have more to talk about, like establishing boundaries, but I’ll save that for another post. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in learning more, join Christina’s mission and her unique approach to parenting by signing up for her newsletter and joining her new Facebook page for parents and our community. She has also provided our community with a free gift. Get her free download Designing Empowered Conversations here.